Swazi film depicts corruption

20 September 2013

ZIMMEDIA

King Mswati III

King Mswati III

A NEW film about Swaziland, The King and the People, screened for the first time on Monday, provoked laughter in an audience that was well-versed in the corruption that is alleged to characterise life in the last remaining absolute monarchy in Africa.

The laughter reached its peak towards the end of the film, as the narrator summarised the extent of King Mswati III's powers: he appoints the Prime Minister, the cabinet, and judges; is head of the armed forces; and is "immune to the law".

The anger beneath the laughter became evident during the question-and-answer session that followed the screening, which was attended by many Swazis, including members of a pro-democracy group based in the UK, Swazi Vigil. They spoke of the lethargy of international organisations, and frustrated attempts to challenge the Foreign Office about the invitation to King Mswati to attend the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

The film was shot undercover in Swaziland. It tells the story of the country through interviews with those fighting for a multi-party democracy. It contrasts the extravagance of the King, whose personal fortune is estimated at $200 million, with the destitution of the people.

Examples of his expenditure prompt comparisons to Marie Antoinette (in 2002, he spent $45 million on a private jet). In a country with the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the world, the King violated his own law (a ban on sex with girls under 18) by taking a 17-year-old girl as his ninth wife.

The activists say that only mass mobilisation will bring change to the country. "Tradition is being used to manipulate the unsuspecting population," a leader of a teaching union warns.

Perhaps most powerful are the interviews with ordinary Swazis. One sugar-cane farmer describes how she brought up her grandchildren after her children were diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. "I want them to have a good life, and grow up well," she says.

On the day of the screening, Chatham House published a new report: Swaziland: Southern Africa's Forgotten Crisis. It highlights the world's lack of interest in a country with a "worrying" trajectory that the King and government ignore "at their peril".

Elections in Swaziland take place today. The Chatham House report suggests that the elections are likely to have little impact.

The King and the People was directed by Simon Bright of Zimmedia and will be shown at the Afrika Eye film festival in Bristol this year (www.Afrikaeye.org.uk). Church groups can organise screenings through Action for South Africa (www.actsa.org).

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